Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Germany in the early 70s faced a wave of terrorism from 6 anarchists who robbed banks and kidnapped
industrialists. The nation responded by passing laws restricting freedoms and giving powers
allowing the police to abuse civil rights while rooting out the anti-social element. The German
yellow press became a
major accomplice in the smearing of many individuals tainted by association, or just the accusation
of association, with possible anarchists. It was proven on at least one occasion (shown in a docu
accompanying the feature) that the press accidentally reported a raid before it actually
happened - a conspirator's flub identical to an incident in the 'radical' film
The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum, a daring film by Volker Schlöndorff and
Margarethe von Trotta, is a fictional story by libertarian writer Heinrich Böll accusing
the police and the press of crimes that actually instigate violence. The story of one woman's
transformation by scandal has a terrible parallel in what is happening now in the United States,
as we erode our basic rights in the name of Homeland Security.
Private maid Katharina Blum (Angela Winkler) has an affair with a stranger one
night; the next morning her apartment is invaded by police who arrest her as an accomplice to
a terrorist known as Ludwig Goetten (Jürgen Prochnow). She's humiliated and paraded before
the press as if her guilt were a foregone conclusion. Police Komissar Beizmenne (Mario Adorf)
colludes with reporter Werner Toetges (Dieter Laser) to smear Blum's name in the papers, as a
pressure tactic. Blum's mother is in a critical condition in a hospital, and Toeges barges in
demanding a statement, which hastens the woman's death; ex-lover Alois Sträubleder (Karl
Heinz Vosgerau) is terrified that he'll be linked with Katharina's supposed anarchistic
tendencies. As it is, Katharina has only her personal honor to defend, and having been made
a social pariah by the newspapers, she has nothing to lose ...
Poor Katharina Blum is guilty only of falling in love. The criminal she's befriended is just that,
an Army deserter who stole official funds. But in the terror-crazed police culture of her country,
he's pursued as a terrorist, a convenient label that allows the authorities to search and arrest,
detain and harass, without limit.
In Touch of Evil, Charlton Heston's character says that a policeman's work is only easy in
a police state, and Katharina faces off against police and newsmen who act like gangsters. Police
chief Mario Adorf threatens and cajoles her, insults her dignity and besmirches her virtue, all
to wrest information from the unbelieving but strong Ms. Blum. Her travails are documented in
a straightforward narrative; she's guilty only of desiring to live without having to betray those
It doesn't do her much good. A wealthy or influential person might have resources to cope with
the press and the cops, but Blum can do nothing when they elicit cheap gossip about her from her
ex-husband and neighbor. When he doesn't hear what he wants, reporter Toetges just makes it up,
barging into Katharina's mother's intensive care room, frightening her with
accusations about her daughter she doesn't understand.
The most shocking moment is early on, when the Police Chief is transporting Katharina, and dozens
of invited photographers show up to photograph her. In order to get a properly suspicious-looking
photo, the cops jerk her head and pull her hair. When she struggles, the pictures taken make her
look like a desperate criminal. 1
Expertly directed and acted, The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum is a gauntlet of a movie that
reportedly put its makers on the same 'abetting terrorists' list as people like the fictional
Ms. Blum. Angela Winkler is amazingly good in the part, just naive enough to be sympathetic, and
tough enough not to collapse under the pressure. It's a harrowing ordeal that coincides with the
death of her mother, a loss that crushes her, but also leaves her free to defend her 'honor' the
best way she knows how.
Criterion's DVD comes with extras that enlarge and illuminate the perspective on the social background
for The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum. The directors explain the background of the picture in
a new interview, and cameraman Jost Vacano (RoboCop) details the production. But best of
all is a lengthy Italian docu on story source Heinrich Böll. The activist author outlines
the reactionary oppression of 1974 Germany, all started by fear of terrorism but
abused by authorities and certain publishers to turn that fear into profit and power. There are
some major differences between what happened there (fear of the Bader-Meinhoff gang: 6 pitiful
anarchists) and what has happened here in the U.S. after 9.11. But the result is the same: civil
liberties threatened, and dissent squelched by corporate-owned media that promote fear of Terror.
The transfer is excellent. The disc also restores two minutes cut for the film's
American release. A powerful show, indeed. The subtitle of the original release translates (thanks to
helpful Sue Wyman) as, "how violence originates and to where it can lead".
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum rates:
Supplements: video interviews, Italian Docu, trailer, essays
Packaging: AGI case
Reviewed: March 18, 2003
1. I saw this sort of thing happen right here in LA in the middle 1980s.
Nancy Reagan visited Los Angeles, and our police chief Darryl Gates took her on a drug raid for
a publicity photo op. On
televsion's KTLA channel 5, we saw a Tank break down the door of a South Central LA house, without
warning. The cops rush in and arrest everyone - just a family of terrified children, and their mother.
No drugs, no guns, no criminals were found. But the news showed the chief escorting the First Lady through the
house, past the cowering residents, where she made some inane remark about 'How these people live' and
said something about 'Say no to Drugs'. It was shocking - we just had to take the Chief's word that
there was some reason to attack that particular house. Think of it - denounce your neighbor and
delight while his home is wrecked, his possessions stolen, and his Honor thrown to the dogs.
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson